Nobody likes being weak.
Bullies prey on the weak. Even in business.
In an earlier “Cool Business” Series article we learned that attracting audience and attention requires Drama before advertising could even begin. Drama has not changed too drastically over the ages; its core elements remain essentially the same, particularly the element of Theme.
Theme is at the heart of every successful drama.
A Theme is a universal message; a lesson that we learn about life or about people.
Bullies tend to do well in Business opportunities; they look for the weak and take their money from them. You can tell because Business opportunity has taken on a theme of disempowerment: Franchise this, Pre-built that, Proven System here, Automatic Money there.
The central message or theme is that those who do least get paid most or that success comes to those who duplicate and imitate.
But not all themes are created equal.
Some make better drama than others. Like victory over adversity, for example.
Which reminds me of my childhood friend, Danny—Actually, he might be upset to hear me call him that because we were much closer; more like brothers.
We were 10 or so. Danny was often patronised by a child from our neighbourhood.
Danny was a small child. Paki, his bully was a large Oafish child.
I think I was on the swing near the Spin-About when Paki showed up on day. I never liked him, he was mean.
Paki walked over to Danny and had a few words with him. I was tuned out. Moments later, Danny walked over to the Spin-About with his bully and glanced my way pleadingly. With his slow eyes, Paki kept Danny in his sights. Meanwhile, I froze up and watched them both mount the Spin-About.
Danny’s face was beet red with a mixture of terror and shame. He sat opposite Paki.
Paki began to pull at the central disc to spin the ride. He made them both spin. He spun faster and faster and faster still!
Danny screamed, “Please…enough…!”
But Paki wouldn’t stop.
Vivid is the expression of slight-retardation on Paki’s face as he drooled and shouted in excitement. Danny tried to pull himself in with his little arms, holding on for dear life to resist the spin force.
By now, the other kids in the playground were watching the blur and cheering for more speed.
Danny’s screams were blood-curdling. I couldn’t bear to watch! But my eyes were glued on the dumb look on Paki’s face, hoping against hope that he’d run out of stamina soon, before little Danny flew off to his doom.
I was frozen.
Finally, Paki’s breath became strained. He ran out of power and began to slow, and slow…and slow to a halt.
Danny got off sluggishly.
Paki yelled after him, “WHERE THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?”
But Danny did not turn.
Suddenly, I saw him; he took off down the hill.
In that instant, I knew the game was over for Paki. He wouldn’t catch up. Danny was a trained sprint-runner, the top in our school. He was a bolt of lightning down that hill…and Paki looked a fool far behind.
Soon, the playground children began to cheer. This time they called Danny’s name.
Danny got away.
You see how I made use of my theme of Victory over Adversity?
It creates a reward for the audience. A reason to stay tuned.
What did we learn from the story?
Perhaps, that one should not pick on others.
Perhaps, that people are fickle and they side with the strong.
Perhaps, that appearance can be deceiving.
To get audience, a business needs to do the same thing. Not with stories, necessarily, but through the company’s MISSION, VISION, and VALUES. These stand in place of a central theme.
They are statements that embody what the business stands for.
For example, Apple’s values include:Â Empathy for customers/users, hard work and aggressive achievement, positive social contribution, team work to reach big worthwhile goals, and so on. These values dictate every aspect of their business and its dealings with employees, customers, and the general public.
Themes can be very private or very public. They are recurring and consistent patterns in all business decisions, all products released, all advertising messages, everything. Â Theme or the lesson behind a theme gives reward and inspiration to anybody who comes in contact with the business.
Boring businesses either have no theme at all, or when they do, the theme has no admirable quality.
Tell me, what is admirable about attributing money and success to people who lack creativity, lack intelligence, lack education, and shy away from work?
What is good about firing one’s boss or quitting their job, when their job and their boss are what currently provide security for their family?
Think about the qualities in the examples above:
- “taking the easy road” and
Are those not the lessons behind the typical Business Opportunity message?
In your typical drama, these two qualities in a character usually bring eventual unhappiness to characters. Story characters almost always end up having to pay a price of hardship for redemption. Something we usually refer to as karma.
Karma tends to be a central theme in many stories and movies.
Let me tell you another quick story about Danny to illustrate.
Danny was picked on by more than one bully, and in different ways.
One such instance was another kid named Liam who always happened to be in trouble for something or other. Liam was a bit of a show-off and that was his problem.
It was during a Metal Work class while the teacher’s back was turned to help some children when Liam approached Danny’s bench. Danny and I were working together on our project.
“Whatcha doin’?” Liam inquired annoyingly.
Liam was a little more intelligent and somewhat more popular than was Paki. But still, a bully is a bully.
Danny, always trusting, thought Liam wanted help, so he gave him his attention.
I watched, almost expecting whatever came next from Liam to be cruel.
Liam grabs Danny from the shoulders and painfully slams his knee into his groin.
The mere recollection hurts.
Danny’s face went red. He cursed a couple of times while Liam walked away laughing, pleased with his “prank”.
I shook my head and we continued to work.
A few minutes later, Liam was back. This time, he snuck up on Danny and grabbed him in the same way as he did before.
Then …SLAM!!…went Liam’s knee, right in Danny’s groin.
Again, Danny did not respond.
This happened at least one more time before class was over and we broke for lunch.
Later, when we returned to class Liam was not there. I did not miss him, and neither did Danny. But it was not until the next day when we saw Liam again.
Liam turned up to class with bruised eyes and cuts. Apparently he’d been humiliated in front of Rowena, his girlfriend when he was beaten in a lunch-time fight. Worse yet, Liam spent the next MONTH in detention for fighting in school.
Timeless Business Themes
Karmic justice is a special kind of theme; one that recurs in drama over and over and never really gets old.Â It’s a universal experience most people have had: “What goes around comes around.” No matter where you’re born or where you live, you grow up with the belief that people get what they deserve or that the justice is served eventually by the world’s natural order.
Similarly, in business, a TIMELESS theme means the business’ philosophy and ideals can be identified with by everyone regardless of their age, gender, class, culture, or religion.
At the heart of the most classical stories are many examples of timeless themes. Stories like MacBeth, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights; each of them conveys universal messages about love, about friendship, about equality, about karma, about self-reliance, about the dangers of ignorance, about the emptiness of attaining false dreams, and so on.
Ideas and ideals we all share, understand, and feel as human beings.
Look at how many spin off books, movie adaptations, television series, and games have all been marketed and sold from the same stories.
How about some timeless theme examples from business then?
Avon…founded in 1886 generates over 10 billion in revenue. Â Avon has a theme of helping women in business become independent and successful, regardless of educational or economic background.
This theme of equality is derived from the karmic justice theme. It draws on several common dramatic themes such as:
- oppression of women,
- overcoming weakness,
- the will to survive,
- change versus tradition,
- And more
Mary Kay uses a similar theme that is seen consistently in their values, vision, and mission.
Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers are big businesses that are centred on the idea that women can discover their inner beauty through proper nutrition and exercise.
The discovery of Inner beauty, or inner vs outer beauty are other timeless theme.
In fact, if you ever did read the novelÂ Jane Eyre, you’ll also notice many of the themes I attributed to Avon, Mary Kay, and Jenny Craig earlier are central in that story too. Â Jane Eyre was published in 1874 and was adapted into at least 70 popular musicals, films, retellings, television shows, and other derivative works since.
Good themes are magnets for audience.Â They reward people for interacting, for tuning in, for listening, for paying attention. They reinforce life-lessons we are all familiar with.
Back to Danny and his various bullies…
Now you can imagine, with Danny, his bullies didn’t all just bother him once and disappear. He was subjected to years of torment from many of these people.
Like Paki, for example, the oafish bully who spun Danny too fast…he stalked Danny outside his home and he threatened to burn down his house…once, Paki even cut Danny up with a broken bottle of glass while he was walking home from school!
Liam, the Metal Working groin-smashing bully destroyed Danny’s science fair submission, he humiliated him in school assembly and subjected him to many horrible acts of cruelty.
Poor, poor Danny.
I often spoke with Danny and gave him advice on how to handle these horrid boys.
Danny was not weak, however.
Like I said earlier, he was just a little smaller and a little younger and a little more trusting. But he was a trained sprint-runner, very fast. He also competed in cross-country and had incredible endurance. He studied martial arts and fought fiercely in tournaments and brought home gold medals for his team. Danny was no weakling.
When I asked him to fight back, he would say, “I would get in trouble for defending myself and end up in detention with these guys.”
Many times he’d speak compassionately about Paki, who he believed to be lonely and a little troubled at home. He would say to me, “He just needs some friends and doesn’t know a better way than to force them.”
Perhaps you thought me a horrible friend for not intervening when Danny was picked on. But I did not stand idly by and do nothing.
Paki was permanently expelled from school because of a wicked plot I constructed. I don’t know what happened to Paki after his expulsion, but there were rumours he ended up in an institution for the criminally insane.
Most of Danny’s bullies met similarly fitting fates due to my intervention.
Liam was not beaten by chance. I found him after Metal Work class and beat him in the quad till his nose was bloody and his eyes were cut and bruised. Rowena happened to be standing at the canteen lunch queue and made to witness how weak her silly friend was.
The children jeered and laughed at his disgraced, hunched over frame. Rowena watched in humiliation while her “man” wiped blood from his eyes. I gave him one last kick to the groin, cursed him and turned my back to him. The children became silent. I walked away.
Later, I told Danny, “Go straight back to class, turn on the tears and CRY in front of the teacher. When he asks what’s wrong, you tell him that Liam beat you, then you and I paid back the favour. This way, we won’t get in trouble.”
It worked. Â Liam was appropriately punished, the teacher sympathised with us and we were spared.
Karmic justice? I think not.
Creating Your Own Business Theme
So we’ve spoken about themes in stories and themes in business. How important a theme is and why it is best to make it timeless.
What we have yet to speak of, is how to create one for your own business and apply it. Here is how:
Begin by evaluating your own beliefs. Which are the top 5 beliefs that have so far guided your life and all your decisions? Ask yourself, are they based on true experiences in your life or are they ones you heard about?
Use your values to create your vision and mission statements.Â Translate your personal values into values for your business. Refer to them often as you build and grow, protect them, and hold them dear.
For many business opportunists, their beliefs about wealth and success come from books like Think and Grow Rich, Rich Dad Poor Dad, and The Secret, amongst others. Although these borrowed beliefs may be true, they are not experiences that you have lived—so there is very little emotion and passion and drama in operating with those belief systems.
Instead, draw on the experiences you lived and the things you do believe and know to be true.
Here are some of the general threads of experience you’ll see shared with you here and in other posts of mine:
- appearances – deception and reality
- knowledge versus ignorance
- what goes around comes around
- change versus tradition
- convention and rebellion
- the dangers of ignorance
- the emptiness of attaining false dream
- and self-reliance
These are my experiences. They are both universally shared with others and yet uniquely mine.
You cannot pinpoint them in one place in particular, but I draw on them in every business I create. They are written eloquently in my vision and mission statements and in my business’ values.
At the start of this tutorial, I told you that nobody liked to be weak. Least of all me.
Remember my friend Danny who appeared weak because he liked to see good in others and empathised with his bullies?
Remember how I, on the other hand, did not believe he should stand by and be weak and instead must stand up for himself, be self-reliant, and be strong?
Well, despite us having opposite beliefs, Danny was much closer than a friend. Much, much closer.
If you’d like the Yaghi Labs crew to help you come up with a central theme for your business then click here.